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The Emotionally Intelligent Way to Handle Feeling Trapped in a Dead-end Job

If you're feeling paralyzed, try this.

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How’s your work life?

If you read my articles, you know I write a lot about using emotional intelligence (EI), the ability to recognize and understand emotions, to help guide decision making. EI (also referred to as EQ, Emotional Intelligence Quotient) can help prevent emotions from getting in the way of rational thinking–especially helpful regarding a decision like this, which will greatly affect the course of your life.

Sometimes readers reached out–albeit with different situations and I love it.

Consider some advice I sent to a reader and how it can guide you through the difficult waters of feeling trapped in a dead-end job.

LOOKING FOR ADVICE

One reader specifically asked for advice. Here’s a portion of his message:

I could relate myself to the article, because I’m currently in an agitated state due to issues in my current job…. I’d like your help on how to apply [your advice] in my situation, since I don’t see any hope for improvement, and hence have started looking out for a change (although it’s been only 10 months for me in this position–and it’s my first job, too).

Would love to know your point of view on how to move forward.

John

And here’s how I responded:

Hi John,

Thanks for reaching out. Sorry to hear about your situation…. It’s a common one in the world of work. I’ve experienced similar circumstances at certain points in my career.

Keeping in mind I have limited knowledge of your situation, I’d recommend considering the following:

1. Seek perspective from someone you trust.

Do you have anyone you trust or admire at your workplace?

Maybe it’s a manager who seems to handle things well, or even someone in another department who has qualities you admire. Ask for an appointment, then explain how you feel.

Listen to what they have to say.

2. Try to work with your direct manager.

First, try to think about five things you like about your job. Then, list a few things you hate about your job.

Narrow that second list down to the two things you most wish you could change. Next, brainstorm a potential solution that won’t take moving mountains to implement. 

Now, request a one-on-one meeting with your manager. (This is better than an impromptu meeting, because it lets him or her know you’ve got something important on your mind.) Begin by talking about those things you really like–and thank your manager for any part he or she plays in them. 

The goal of this part of the conversation–and what makes it emotionally intelligent–is to show your manager that you appreciate his or her efforts. Often times, managers and team leads aren’t aware of the pressures their employees are under. Or if they are, they too are under so much pressure that they aren’t motivated to help.

Now it’s time to communicate those one or two (no more than two) things that really bother you at work, and present the solution you brainstormed. Show your manager the potential benefits, and why you think it will work. (This makes things even easier on him or her. You’ve already solved the problem; the manager just has to approve it.)

Finally, ask for a trial period to test it out.

You can also ask your manager if he or she sees any other potential solutions. By doing this, you show that you’re willing to work with him or her. You’re not just looking for an easy way out–but you do want to solve the problem…together. 

Taking time to recognize your manager’s efforts, and showing that you want to contribute to solving problems (instead of complaining about them) may motivate him or her to try harder to help you.

3. Make a short, time-bound goal.

After all of this, I’d still recommend a short-term goal of remaining at your job for a while (e.g., three months) without looking for another job.

The reason is to give the first two points a fair shot. If you’re focused on leaving, your efforts will be torn in two different directions.

If you still feel the same after three months, start looking for another job–and look hard.

Go back to your list, and try to find a job that will satisfy the likes and take away some of the dislikes. Talk to friends and others to see what work is like in their companies, remembering that other situations won’t be perfect, either.

In the meantime, continue to learn what you can from your current employer, with a view to using that in your future job.

Hope that’s helpful. You sound like a very smart guy and I’m sure your future is bright. All the best, and hope things work out.

Keep me posted,
Justin

PROACTIVE, NOT REACTIVE

The truth is, everyone’s circumstances are different. If you have a family, you may need to hold on to your job and whatever security it provides in order to provide for your dependents. Or other circumstances may prevent you from pursuing other opportunities for the moment.

But we often allow our emotions to get the best of us. In so doing, we become paralyzed.

Proactively working to bring those emotions under control allows us to develop a strategy for improving our situation.

Remember: A dead-end is simply a challenge to find another route. So look for the detour, and enjoy the scenery along the way.

In the end, you’ll be better for the experience.

Enjoy this post? Check out my book, EQ Applied, which uses fascinating research and compelling stories to illustrate what emotional intelligence looks like in everyday life.

A version of this article originally appeared on Inc.com.

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